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Home cook considering culinary school

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
Firstly, I would like to apologize to the moderators for initially posting this note under the "career change" sticky. I am new here, and I bet that wasn't the appropriate place for my post!! Oops! Feel free to delete it if you wish!

I am a home cook considering culinary school. I have been reading on these forums that one really should work in or observe a restaurant before even applying. Considering that working in a commercial kitchen is a completely different ballgame than thinking in teaspoons and cups at home, what could I possibly offer to do in a kitchen? (I am in graudate school for an unrelated subject and on-campus dining includes delis, fast food, a full service restuarant and a faculty dining room.) I have no food service or waitressing experience whatsoever. (I have a hearing problem so I would be a little hestitant to serve in that capacity...) My chopping is slow and not up to the standards of a professional kitchen (hence, school! ;)).

I am hesitant to ask because a restaurant is a busy business and I don't want to slow anyone down (or look like an idiot!). Has anyone had the experience of starting from square one as far as technique?
post #2 of 15
Everybody has, at some point, started out not knowing anything. Keep that in mind. Take a look through this forum and you'll find the stories of many people that have been in your specific situation.

I've found that smaller operations that have staffing issues are generally more willing to hire someone with little to no experience. In my area, these places are mostly found in outlying areas that are experiencing growth.
Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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Anulos qui animum ostendunt omnes gestemus!
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post #3 of 15
I was in a similar situation as you a couple years ago. Here's what I did.

I went to what I considered the best restaurant in town, told the chef about my possible desire to go to culinary school, the fact that I have no restaurant experience, and that I want to see what the work environment is like before I make a decision. I was working full time and was able to leave work early and go into the restaurant one day a week. In my mind, I assumed that I would just hang out in the kitchen and maybe I'd get to scrub some pans or something. However, he put me to work right away picking herbs and doing other minor prep tasks. These small tasks showed that I was able to follow directions and work quickly. He started giving me more tasks and started showing me how to properly use a knife. Eventually, I got to a point where I was coming in twice a week and occassionally working the garde manger station by myself. It was a great experience and I am very glad I did it.

So my advice to you is to choose the best restaurant in town, talk to the chef, and see what possibilities exist. Best of luck!
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Sean
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Whatshisname
Sean
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post #4 of 15
Why are you considering going into the industry?
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #5 of 15

cook considering culinary school

Kitty-
Do you have a culinary school (s) near you? Perhaps a tour of a school might help you in deciding what direction to take. I have enrolled part time in one of my local schools and will start full time in January (when I can get more time away from my full time job). I also have no formal culinary experience- but I have been cooking for years for family and friends. I began my transition into the culinary world by pulling out the collection of Bon Appetite mags that I have read but was too intimidated to try the recipes, and began trying the recipes. I would suggest you start by stepping up the complexities of your cooking/recipes. That way you begin to develop new skills and get over the fear to try something new. You mentioned your knife skills were slow- so practice! Make lots of stews, ragouts, veggie deli trays, etc- anything where you have to cut alot. Purchase meat on the bone to practice you knife skills there. Learn the basics. My instructor at my school emphasizes to work on learning to cook by your senses not necessarily by recipe- as you are cooking, learn the look, taste and smell of "works in progress". And most of all, be sure that if you decide to go into the culinary world that you have a passion for it. You will give up if it doesn't really matter to you!! Good luck and bon appetite!! :chef:
Bon Vive' !
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Bon Vive' !
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post #6 of 15
Before I started culinary school I worked for 1 year at a T.G.I.Friday's.

No matter what anybody says, I consider my time spent on the line at TGIF an extremely great move for me. I learned about what it really is to work a line, what it is to mass produce, what time efficiency is.

I would strongly suggest working on a line (not necessarily a chain, but it really HELPS to learn how to work extremely high volume).

I have gone to school with so many students that never set foot in a commercial kitchen before, and have lost their enthusiasm (and tuition money) because they realized that the kitchen life wasnt as glamorized as they thought it was.
post #7 of 15
"Glamorous"??!! Have you guys been hearing things that I havent? :chef:
post #8 of 15
As much as I love Emeril... I get the feeling that alot of people that watch him think that he portrays real kitchen life, and some people can be really impressionable.

Not saying the kitchen life isn't glamorous. Nothing is more rewarding to me then talking to a guest and he tells me that his meal was fantastic. It is worth more than the small paycheck I get.
post #9 of 15
Well, considering that one wouldn't normally walk out on the floor for a good ten+ years working in the field, I wouldn't be using that as a point to work towards either... look for more immediate goals :).
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #10 of 15
Hi Kitty!

I am in the same boat as you.

I have no restuarant experience and yet I am going to be starting the Culinary Arts program at my local community college in January (might wait until next fall so I can get some experience in a kitchen, at leat on part time basis). I am looking into a few leads to get into a kitechen to get some training before I head to school. I guess we'll have to see.

I am scared. I have a family to provide for and I sometimes wonder if this career will be enough to provide for them (at least in the beginning). My wife is supportive and assures me all will be ok. She plans to go back to work soon and if push comes to shove I will work P/T as a cook and keep the job I have (which pays decent) until something better somes along.

Good luck!!
"I always had a fantasy of being a chef, because I like kitchen life." - Geoffrey Rush

So you wanna be a chef?
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"I always had a fantasy of being a chef, because I like kitchen life." - Geoffrey Rush

So you wanna be a chef?
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post #11 of 15
I have a friend who is about 30 years old married with children and no previous kitchen experience.

She is paying the steep $40,000 that I paid to attend the Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago. I gave her a recommendation at the hotel I work at, and she was hired for her externship. About half-way through, her and I were talking, and she mentions that she is unsure of whether or not she wants to do this anymore. She has a family to provide for and school debts to pay, and an entry-level hourly wage in a hotel kitchen is not going to cover either of them.

I am not mentioning this to discourage you, but more to inform you. I wish the culinary students here nothing but success in their futures.
post #12 of 15

I jumped in feet first -

... and I don't regret a second of it!

I had been in the medical field for 20-some years. I knew my job was being phased out, and after half-hearted attempts at looking <I REALLY didn't wanna keep doing that, even though I was good at it and it paid good> I jumped in taking the Culinary Apprenticeship program at our local community college.

It's 18 class-hours a week. Then we all got jobs <well, some were already working in kitchens> where we could to get our feet wet. I started at a TGIFriday's <waves to Mike in Albany> - and while I hated the experience, it was a GREAT learning tool, as he said, to learn working on a line. I did learn speed, working around others in a BUSY situation and just learning the general stuff - prepping, keeping work stations clean, and getting "basic" recipes out FAST. In fact, I got the job at Friday's before I'd ever even stepped in a commercial kitchen before!!!

I am still in school until April 2007 <started in February 2006> and am now working for a family-owned restaurant. It's slower than Friday's, but I'm also able to LEARN, and since they serve breakfast, I'll be able to get those hours for school in, too.

I have 4 kids and am a single mom. Oh, definitely, the money is WAY less. But I have ALWAYS wanted to cook for a living, and I'm having the time of my life. That, in itself, is awesome! My kids are thrilled for me - they know how much I've wanted this. We do without, plain and simple. It's NOT easy - and I'm not home that much. My kids are older - 19 to 9 - and so I'm able to leave supper cooked for them to reheat and eat. I miss not being home - but I also am a happier mom when I am home. <sorry, Dr. Laura - it's working for us!>

So - we pared down expenses as much as we could, and we all do as much cooperating as possible. My kids have never had to have "name brand" stuff, so they're really not sacrificing anything like that. Just time with me - but my employer, since they're not chain, are a lot more flexible with my schedule. They do work with my school to give me class time off, and then have worked around stuff for my kids.

Maybe I'm just lucky.... but it's all working out for me! I'm finally getting to do what I want to do for a living. Pell Grants paid for most, student loans for the rest.

So what I'd say? Come on in, the water's WARM!!! But you gotta test that out for yourself.

Cary in OHio
post #13 of 15
Hi Kittycat,

Let me tell you about my experience. In 1998 at the age of 39, with a husband and 2 kids aged 11 and 7, I decided to enroll in the Culinary Management diploma program at The George Brown Chef School (a community college; low tuition) in Toronto. Like you, I had few "professional" skills. I was a great cook, have always had an incredible passion to read about food, experience exotic and wondrous flavours, cook for my family, and learn all I could about gastronomy.

I'll tell you right from the start that I never intended to pursue a restaurant career. I was quite sure that it was test kitchen work that I wanted. The 2 year program I went through (which I fast-tracked in 15 months) was intense, stressful, incredibly time consuming, and worth every minute. The amount of academic work, aside from the practical work in the kitchen, the bakeshop, and the school restaurant, was mind-boggling. Exams, assignments, termpapers, etc.

But if I hadn't gone to chef's school, I would never in a million years have gotten a job in the highly regarded test kitchen of a Canadian monthly magazine.

I've since set up a cooking school in my home, where I teach hands-on, usually one-on-one classes, and I do freelance consulting in the fields of culinary education, food writing and editing, and recipe development and testing.

My gut feeling for you is to get the basics at chef's school, where you'll gain the confidence and self-assurance you'll need to work in a restaurant, if that's what you want to end up doing.

Good luck!
post #14 of 15
that's a good dose of reality!:cry:
i'm also considering the move...but there are a lot of factors to consider.
post #15 of 15
Do not go to culinary school thinking you will be hired immediately as an Executive Chef upon graduation. Go to culinary school because you have a sincere passion for this field, and understand that you will have to work your way up through the ranks of the kitchen.
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